People with particular tastes think Florida is the holy grail in terms of weather, and John Cleese has been finding out why firsthand.
“I’m having a lovely time here,” the 75-year-old Monty Python co-founder said, calling on a sunny, 80-degree day from his Miami hotel earlier this month. “And there’s a marked absence of hurricanes ... although when you come from a miserable climate like London, frankly, you’d rather have a hurricane than be in London.”
Cleese spent the first 2 1/2 weeks of October bouncing around Sunshine State cities like Sarasota, Fort Myers, West Palm Beach, Fort Pierce, Clearwater and Jacksonville with an old friend: Python pal Eric Idle.
The duo’s stage show – “Together Again at Last ... for the Very First Time” – has since weaved its way through Georgia and stops at Charlotte’s Ovens Auditorium on Friday night.
In our recent interview, Cleese talked about the new show, why it includes Idle but not longtime collaborator Michael Palin, what he thinks about the constant fuss over 1975’s “Monty Python and the Holy Grail,” and how he really feels about his ex-wife.
Q. How did this tour come about?
A. Eric and I really enjoyed doing The O₂ (“Monty Python Live (mostly),” which was performed 10 times in July 2014 by the five surviving Pythons), but Michael Palin was very polite and just said he didn’t want to do it anymore afterward. We couldn’t really figure out why, but he didn’t want to do it. That’s all right, some people prefer raspberry to strawberry. Then we got a big offer to go to Australia (as Monty Python) and Michael didn’t want to do that. So Eric and I said, “Well, Graham (Chapman) isn’t here anymore, Michael doesn’t want to do it, why don’t we just do a show the two of us?” Because the other two (Terry Gilliam and Terry Jones) are directors rather than performers. And we thought, “Why not? We could easily do it.” Then I said, “Let’s do it somewhere where the weather’s nice, where there are nice people and where the towns aren’t too far apart.” It took us about five seconds to decide on Florida.
Q. Do you feel pressure to include Python references in this new show?
A. Well, we know that audiences like to learn about Python. We know that they like to know about who was easy to work with. But Eric and I both decided that on The O₂ we’d done all the famous Python sketches for the last time. (In this show) we have one or two clips, but the clips are really quite short and they’re more for the purpose of giving us something to talk about, because we want to make a particular point about the way the scenes were shot, or that kind of thing. We will refer to Python a lot of the time, but we don’t actually do any of the classic sketches.
Q. From what I understand, portions of the evening are unscripted.
A. Right. In the old days, you used to rehearse everything and make it as perfect as possible. But people seem to want authenticity now, rather than a very carefully polished performance. Even if you look at politics, authenticity is what people are responding to. I mean, Donald Trump is authentically a megalomaniac, and that’s very interesting. He’s not saying what people are telling him to say. Anyway, so if (Eric and I) just chat to each other, even if things go wrong – or perhaps especially if they go wrong – people like it. Eric told me something on stage in Fort Myers that I’d never heard before, so I simply asked him about it as though we were sitting at dinner together. We’ve known each other for 52 years, and I think the audience likes to see a couple of people who’ve made them laugh for a long time enjoying each other’s company.
Q. What’s the most challenging part of the show?
A. The question-and-answer part, because sometimes you’ll get very nice questions, but the answers are very dull, like “Why is it called ‘Monty Python’s Flying Circus’?” You can answer that, but it’s just not a very interesting answer. Whereas if they ask things like, “Which of the Pythons do you hate the most?” Or, “Why can’t you stay married to any woman for a substantial period of time?” Those kind of stroppy, fun, cheeky questions, they’re great fun.
Q. People ask about your ex-wives? (Cleese is on his fourth marriage; he has reportedly paid his third wife, Alyce Faye Eichelberger, a $20 million divorce settlement.)
A. Oh yeah, I was in South Africa and somebody said to me, “Mr. Cleese, we’ve heard a lot about your divorce and the alimony. Do you hate your ex-wife?” It was just fabulous. The audience screamed with laughter. I was able to explain I didn’t hate her at all. I just wished she was dead because then the payments would stop. ... But questions like, “What is your favorite sketch?” You can give them the answer, but who’s interested?
Q. What are other popular questions you get at these things?
A. They do vary an awful lot. You get, “Can I have a photograph with you afterwards?” And one girl asked if I would take her to a nightclub after the performance. That was quite fun. But you never know what’s coming. Sometimes we’re tempted to put our own questions in because they’re slightly better than the ones we’re getting from the audience.
Q. How did you respond to the girl who asked for the date?
A.Well, now I can’t do that kind of thing. First of all, I’m too old. And the show is about two and a half hours. Once I get off, my main thought is to go and have a nice long vodka and tonic, not too strong, with lots of ice, and put my feet up for a few minutes.
Q. Back to Python for a sec – I saw that yet another re-release of “The Holy Grail” is coming out this month.
A. Oh yes, they keep churning it out again and again and again. Thirty years ago, you wouldn’t have done it. You’d have said, “No, we’ve exploited it enough.” But these days, everybody is always re-releasing everything. You know, if people want to buy them, they can. They don’t have to if they don’t want to.
Q. I assume you’re constantly being asked for fresh interviews for these video releases.
A. Oh yes, somebody was asking me on film about three months ago, they said, “We want to ask you questions about making ‘The Holy Grail.’ And I said, “I can’t remember anything about making ‘The Holy Grail’ now. It was made in 1974. How much can you remember about 1974?” But I said to them, “I’ll tell you what: I’ll tell you all my memories about being interviewed about making ‘The Holy Grail,’ because I’ve got lots of those.”
Q. When is the last time you sat down and watched that movie, honestly?
A. Oh, I don’t know. When we were at the Tribeca Film Festival (in New York) in April, that was our 40th anniversary, and I think Jones and Gilliam who directed it went and saw the screening. But the rest of us went and had dinner. People often ask me about that, and I say, “You know, I don’t spend my old age watching my old programs.” If I watch any programs, they’re ones I haven’t seen before. But most of the time now, quite seriously, if I have time in the evening, I either have dinner with friends, or occasionally I go to the theater. More often I just read a book, because there’s so many books that I want to read – and I’ll be dead in 10 years, so I have to get on with that.
Q. What else do you want to be getting on with before it’s too late?
A. I’d like to be able to concentrate more on writing. I’ve always valued writing above performing, and I think I’m a better writer than I am a performer. But the problem is that performing has always paid more. So if you’ve got to recover from a $20 million alimony payment, that forces you to do more performing and less writing. But I’m just about to get the balance right.
‘John Cleese & Eric Idle: Together Again at Last … for the Very First Time’
When: 7:30 p.m. Friday.
Where: Ovens Auditorium, 2700 E. Independence Blvd.
Details: 800-745-3000; www.cleeseandidle.com.